Sunday, February 19, 2012

"You Don't Want Readers to Admire Your Writing"

I manage to always make time for reading. It’s a little less intimidating than facing a blank page and writing. I get “Writer’s Digest” and sometimes wish it came out twice a month. I’m always antsy for the next issue! My Rachael Ray mag gets lost in the pile while I quickly devour Writer’s Digest.

Yesterday I was reading an article, when one of the points smacked me over the head. I love when that happens. Instead of forgetting everything I read after a couple of weeks, I know this tidbit will stick. Here’s the quote that sums it up. “Believe it or not, you don’t want readers to admire your writing: You want them to be so engaged in the story itself that they don’t notice the way you use words to shape it.”-Steven James, March/April 2012 issue. Much of the article talked about simplifying your writing and not over doing it with symbols or metaphors, and not “trying too hard”—which also struck me. As a beginner novelist, that’s a likely blindspot for me. Not to mention how much of a turn-off it is when you find a book that’s blatantly “trying too hard.”

It’s about engaging your reader without them realizing HOW you’re doing it. You don’t want them to admire your style of writing or unique similes or powerful writing voice. It’s like hiding all the back stage props, cords, and costumes at the theater . It’s all needed, but you don’t want to draw attention to all those details, even if they are spectacular. This idea translates to the art of acting, and it’s something I’ve noticed in movies and TV shows. When I catch myself critiquing the actor/actress and thinking more about their abilities, it’s a signal that I've found a bad actor. They’re simply a poor actor or they’re over-the-top and trying too hard. It distracts me from the story. When I’m so engrossed in the plot, I barely notice the actor, and instead the actor is a subtle piece that contributes to the story. I’m so eager to watch the story play itself out, that sometimes I even forget it’s “just a movie.” Try it sometime. Test it out. Then test it on your own writing.

Since I’ve started writing more in recent months, I’ve also become a more observant reader- on purpose. There’s an objective “me” that is always present over my shoulder (I picture the angel and devil, except it’s a “mini me”). Even when I’m suddenly captured by a page-turner, I force myself to stop and flip back a few pages to understand HOW the author did it. I’m learning what works and what doesn’t. What bores me. And what keeps me reading (I’m a very picky reader).

I’ve found that being an avid and active reader is invaluable to a writer. After being the nerdiest of bookworms since age six, I’d have to say it’s been just as valuable as any formal education I’ve had. Now I can add this tip to my treasure chest of writer’s knowledge: Simplicity, subtlety, and don’t “try too hard.”


Patricia Kiyono said...

Very true. I know I love to read stories by certain authors, but if you were to ask me what they did to hold my interest, I wouldn't be able to tell you. Great post, Terri!

Jessica Strawser said...

So happy to hear this article resonated with you--and that you continue to enjoy WD! Thanks for sharing your insights with the rest of your group.

Happy Writing,
Jessica Strawser
Editor, Writer's Digest